Getting old is a messy, messy business. This is the dark side of modern medical science. People who would once have expired after a few days or weeks of misery can now live on for years. At a certain point, what’s being extended is pretty much just the misery. You always hope for the best, but the best becomes more and more elusive.
Since bringing my mom home from the hospital on Sunday, I’ve been staying at her house to take care of various things — food, oxygen, assorted appointments, and making sure the medication regimen is set up. Mom is taking nine or ten different kinds of pills. She has a very nice day-by-day pill dispenser box with four separate compartments for each day, but we have now reached the point where four compartments are not enough. She takes pills at 7:00 AM, after breakfast, at 1:00 PM, after dinner, and at bedtime. And of course the eyedrops.
Mom is 88. Up until last week, she was able to live independently in her own home. She did her own shopping. Not only did she drive to the weekly card games with her friends, she provided taxi service to friends who are no longer able to drive.
Those days are over now. She’s still mentally alert (when she’s awake), but she’s not going to be driving any more. She’s getting up and down the hall to the bathroom with a walker, and moving very slowly indeed.
She’d like to continue living in her own home. Nobody likes the idea of moving to assisted living. It means loss of privacy, loss of control over your own schedule, loss of control over meals, and so on. Simply moving to a new domicile, when you’re that old, is bound to be very stressful. Giving up a lifetime’s worth of keepsakes will be traumatic. But I’ll be darned if I can see how to set up her living situation so she can stay at home. What if the oxygen hose gets tangled up?
It’s not possible for me to move back in with Mom to take care of her. For three reasons, really. First, it would drive me crazy and make me sick. Second, I’m not retired; I have ongoing obligations in several areas, so my time is limited and my need for office space is non-trivial. Third, and perhaps a little more selfishly, there’s a limit to how much of my time I’m willing to give up. I have no children of my own, so when I’m 88 nobody is going to be coming to live with me to make my life more comfortable. If I want to have a comfortable life, I need to do it now. I’m willing to do quite a lot to help get Mom settled in a viable living situation, but it’s not practical for me to create a viable living situation for her by sacrificing my own needs.
I’m telling this story not to elicit sympathy, but simply to let anyone else who might be in a similar situation know that they’re not alone.
Since both Mom and I are both atheists, I would prefer it if you didn’t say anything about keeping her in your prayers. You can pray for whatever you like, if it pleases you to do so, but saying anything about it would be unwelcome and intrusive.
Practical suggestions, however, would be more than welcome.